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Art Davis: All That Jazz Ain't All That Jazz


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Many school systems never had jazz in their programs. While teaching at Manhattan Community College, I got free tickets for my students and worked with some club owners to discount tickets - another way of encouraging the music.
By Art Davis

Many of us know the history and derivations of this topic. There can be numerous dissertations that I could present but I shall focus on education.

All too often, while teaching a jazz history class, I encounter students who think that "Bird" is a famous basketball player. There are still many who think Coltrane is a train that carries coal. Countless other examples exist.

Why the fuss about lack of knowledge of names? Because this subject, jazz, which has numerous definitions, is America's true contribution to the arts. As Charlton Heston stated, America's contribution is jazz and Westerns. While serving as an Executive Board member of Local 47 Professional Musicians Union, I suggested we write him a letter of thanks since very few have noted this fact. For decades the term "jazz" has had a negative connotation. It has been associated with drugs, prostitution, inferior music, etc. Interestingly, other parts of the world have recognized this form of music as highly cultural. In my travels to Europe and Asia, I have seen little children enjoy and know the names of jazz artists. There are large crowds who will scalp tickets. I've performed in large stadiums, large town squares where hundreds of thousands appear - somewhat like rock stars are afforded attendance in this country.

What can be done to ameliorate this dilemma? I've noticed a modicum of change, ever so slightly. Jazz is slowly being recognized as an art form in this country. More of this music is incorporated in commercials and jingles. More concert houses are adding jazz to their programs. I have been an advocate of jazz in schools for 40 years but funds have been drastically cut so there are very few schools that have even have music in their systems.

What I have been doing for the last 40 years is volunteering for free to go into the school systems. Oftentimes I have gone with my bass and performed for pre-kindergarten to 12th graders. I found that there has been a tremendous enthusiasm amongst preschoolers and elementary students and they are fascinated by the bass. I have numerous notes, letters thanking me for attending.

Another way is to encourage parents to bring their children to concerts. This early intervention has them inputting this music in their psyche and the results are very rewarding. They are incorporating sounds, etc. which will have a positive impact.

Many school systems never had jazz in their programs. While teaching at Manhattan Community College, I got free tickets for my students and worked with some club owners to discount tickets - another way of encouraging the music. These actions continued while I moved to the West Coast. I would also incorporate mini-lectures for all ages.

There is a major problem with the media. They should present jazz in a positive stance. There are very few radio stations that play jazz and if people are not exposed to it they can't understand it and many times cannot judge the music. The media, particularly radio stations, shun this music. There has been a decrease in jazz stations and very few commercial stations that play jazz. Radio stations in other countries mix the music and thereby listeners are able to become introduced to jazz and other forms of music.

One way of fostering education is to have stimuli. I had a fan club in 1990 with over a hundred persons and they had scholarships in my name in 1993, I formed a not-for-profit organization called Better Advantages for Students and Society (B.A.S.S.) whereby donors could deduct their contributions. Prior to that time, the Davis family paid for scholarships, cash awards awarded to college and university students. No recipient has dropped out of school. Details can be found on my website. When my wife died, I formed the Gladys Davis Scholarships open to students in the health care professions. The organization performed community service such as feeding the homeless, mentoring students and performing at institutions such as convalescent homes, prisons, schools, alcoholic treatment center, etc. A major portion of this was the use of jazz.

These are some of the ways we can improve. Also, classical music is not the only avenue for increasing intelligence and learning. Jazz is an excellent idiom and acts as a curative as well. While on my internship, I had significant results using jazz and movement but that's another story.

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